Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, David Lee

The Extra Pass: The New Roll Man


The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at how the pick-and-roll big man has evolved. 

When Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin in Los Angeles, almost everyone believed they would form the most devastating pick-and-roll combination the league has seen since John Stockton and Karl Malone roamed the plains of Salt Lake City.

It made sense. Paul is the league’s best point guard, a player with otherworldly vision and a complex understanding of angles, and Griffin is an athletic marvel, faster and stronger than every big man he goes up against. Put the two together, and it’s a match made in pick-and-roll heaven, right?

You would think so, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, Paul and Griffin rarely even run true pick-and-roll these days. According to Synergy Sports, Griffin is the roll man on only about 10 percent of his possessions — a shockingly low number given the narrative that he doesn’t have a post game, and that all Vinny Del Negro runs is high screens.

So why don’t the Clippers run the Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll more?

It’s mainly because they can’t. The simple threat of it is enough to deter the actual action.

One of the most prevalent strategies used to thwart the pick-and-roll in today’s game is the “icing” or “blueing” or “downing” of screens. Jacob Frankel of the De-Thurmond Analysis has a wonderful look at what that means, and this photo illustrates how teams are eliminating the screen from actually happening:


You’ll see this a lot over the course of an NBA game. In this example, Tony Parker has forced the ballhandler away from the pick by severely overplaying him screen-side. It’s now Boris Diaw’s job to prevent penetration and allow Parker to recover once the screen is no longer in play.

What “icing” a screen usually amounts to is a pocket pass by the guard to the would-be pick setter, who now gets to play 4-on-3 against a zoned up backline defense.

In theory, defenses would much rather have a big power forward making a decision from 17 feet than an explosive dunk right at the rim. It’s simple —  make a non-traditional ballhandler make a ballhandler’s decision, and a lot of times the big man’s delay or hesitation to make the decision will give the defense enough time to recover.

What does this all mean in the grand scheme of things for pick-and-roll big men?

Now more than ever before, court vision is critical for any roll man worth his salt. It’s why great passers like Griffin, David Lee and Marc Gasol are all averaging career best assist numbers this season, and it’s a big reason why all three deserve All-Star bids.

The heavier use of “icing” pick-and-rolls has effectively distributed more of the scoring wealth as well. As Henry Abbott of TrueHoop recently wrote about, five years ago there were 27 players in the league who averaged at least 20 points per game. This year? Nine. As defenses force the ball out of the hands of first options, it’s the new role of the roll man to find the open shooter, or knock it down himself.

If there is one thing that’s changed about the NBA since the Stockton-Malone days to now, it’s that NBA defenses have gotten smarter and faster. Gone are the days of bludgeoning a defense with the same basic action over and over. Defenses develop a quicker immunity, and as an offense, you have to keep introducing new poisons.

It’s why simply being a great finisher in the pick-and-roll isn’t good enough anymore. While athleticism (Griffin) and size (Gasol) will always be heavily sought after attributes for a roll man, they aren’t the only requirements.

You would have never said this a few years ago, but maybe David Lee is the prototype. He’s a great passer, a deadly mid-range shooter (47% from 16-to-23 feet), and he’s ambidextrous and athletic enough to score at the rim regularly. Golden State has built an entire offense around his abilities in that setting, surrounding him with perimeter shooters and a low post monster in Carl Landry. As we witnessed in their recent victories over the Clippers and Thunder, that’s working out pretty well for them.

Defenses will continue to adapt, but for now, players with ‘high post skill-sets are more valuable than players with traditional low post skill-sets because those skills can be applied to more areas of the game. A lot of people will tell you that the big man is extinct, but it’s not true. They just evolved.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.

Report: Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian engaged, getting their own reality show

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16:  TV personality Khloe Kardashian attends the NBCUniversal 2016 Upfront Presentation on May 16, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
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Tristan Thompson is doing his best to ensure the Cavaliers live up to Joakim Noah‘s “Hollywood as hell” billing.

Just as they begin a high-profile title defense behind stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Thompson is bringing even more attention to Cleveland by taking his relationship with Khloe Kardashian to the next level.

Katherine Santana of In Touch:

Now that Khloé Kardashian and Tristan Thompson are engaged, In Touch can exclusively reveal details on the couple’s wedding. Khloé and Tristan are now in the works of getting their own reality show, and are planning to marry in front of the cameras!

Thompson and Kardashian are adults and should be free to live their personal lives as they see fit under the law. I just hope Thompson understands what he’s getting himself into.

Report: Lakers want to keep Metta World Peace… as assistant coach

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers sits for an interview during Los Angeles Laker media day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four five primary candidates:

  • Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
  • Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
  • Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
  • Anthony Brown, the No. 34 pick just last year. He has a guaranteed salary.
  • Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.

The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.

If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.

World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.

More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.

Heat reportedly not shopping Goran Dragic, tell him trade rumors are untrue

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Heat and Kings reportedly discussed a trade that would send Goran Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay and Darren Collison.

Could such a deal happen?

Miami is clearly sending out word from its end: No.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Dragic on Erik Spoelstra, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:

“He just said those rumors, they’re not true.”

Reminder: Mario Chalmers said the Heat told him they would keep him shortly before they traded him.

Teams get the most from players when they’re happy, and job security pleases most people. So, teams often assure players they won’t be traded. If a team violates that trust by dealing a player anyway… that’s no longer the team’s problem. The player is fuming elsewhere.

I don’t know whether the Heat will trade Dragic this season. Their assurances and signals mean something, but only so much.

I do know Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and has a long-term contract that makes little sense on a rebuilding team.